Posts Tagged ‘Mark Bittman’

Shrinking Violets Need Not Apply

Stinkin' Pizza

On the drive to work the other day, I was catching up on my feed reading with my iPhone (as passengers are wont to do) and came across a post on Mark Bittman’s new slog (that’s salon/blog to the newbs) about a dare he threw down to Ed Schneider to make a ramp pizza.

At the precise moment I was reading it, the Everyman happened to ask me what I was reading about, but when I told him he seemed non-plussed (though I was extremely intrigued) so I knew I’d have to file this one away for some future solo supper.  Of course, ramp season only lasts for so long, so I knew it would have to be sooner rather than later.

Several days later an opportunity presented itself, so the morning of I mixed up a batch of plain pizza dough using my handy dandy Bittman app.  That night, I started by following Ed’s general instructions by separating ramp leaves from the bulbs and sautéing them individually in a little beurre noisette.  I had rummaged around in our fridge and freezer for other things to put on the pizza and came across some errant artichoke pesto cubes, so once the ramps were cooked I melted the pesto into them too.  To finish the stinky, vegetal sauce I thwacked in a dollop of creme fraiche, then set to work trying to spread the mess onto half a ball of pizza dough.  Once it was mostly dressed, I showered it profusely with shredded mozzarella and tried to artfully snap the pie off my pizza peel with a flick of the wrist.  Let’s just say that part’s a work in progress.

A good while later the dough had reached my desired degree of doneness in the meekness of a 500* oven, and the ramp greens had acquired occasional spots of char as I had hoped for, so I fished it out and set to work cutting and munching it.

It would certainly have been better if I’d had a blazing hot pizza oven that could cook a proper pie in closer to 2 minutes than the 20 or so this one took, but otherwise, the flavours worked astonishingly well together.  Make no mistake though, this is not a pie for people who are on the fence about ramps, because even with the pesto and creme fraiche to temper them this is clearly a dish where their funky, pungent flavour is the primary star.


How To Cook Everything: App Style

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for any length of time surely knows how much I am a fan of Mark Bittman.

But (full disclosure time) I’ve never really cooked many of his recipes, if only because I don’t generally use recipes.  You probably wouldn’t know considering how many recipes I publish on this website, but 9 times out of 10 I’m just throwing stuff together off the top of my head and trying to write recipes after the fact as best as possible from memory.  As a sidebar on my recipes, you may also have noticed that I never tell anyone to season their food with salt and pepper, which is because I assume that’s a given and you’ll season it to your liking (just sayin’).

The reason I like Bittman is because he does keep things simple, and because the intros to his podcasts are oh-so-hilarious (seriously, you must watch them!)

So, when I heard that How To Cook Everything was coming to the iPhone as an app, it only took me 2.5 seconds to download the thing and start messing around with it.  For the introductory price of $1.99 (I know, I sound like some sort of corny infomercial) it really is quite the steal.  I read somewhere that the app encompasses all 2000+ recipes from the book, which in a sense seems like a terrible marketing idea, but could also be considered very shrewd.  For people who don’t already have the book, you’re potentially losing the customer base, but for ones like me who have the book but are lazy and like flashy, shiny things, we’ll buy it even though we already own the book anyway.

I test drove the app while making a few dinners last week, and it proved to be quite the workhorse.  On Wednesday night I made a version of pad Thai (though not the exact same as the one published as the NY Times Minimalist recently) that was only passable moreso because I had to make so many substitutions than owing to the character of his recipe.  To test it again a few days later, I made one of his streamlined tagines for Friday night supper.  One of the features of the app that I loved outright was the linkage within recipes to other variations on that theme.  Also, the easier to digest screen by screen separation of instructions make any challenge seem much less daunting.  Though I’ve since decided to leave pad Thai to professionals, we were quite taken with the chicken and chickpea tagine served alongside homemade wholewheat pita bread and will definitely be making it again.


Dippity Do

Roasted Carrot Dip

My mother in law is the queen of the newspaper recipe.

Because they often have 3 of the 4 local papers in the house, it’s not unusual to find her kitchen at home or at the cottage littered with clippings of recipes she is longing to try.  She’s pretty open minded, but definitely has a soft spot for Lucy Waverman’s weekly column.  Generally speaking, I don’t usually find recipes for my kind of food in the paper (with the exception of Bittman, that is) so you can imagine my surprise when we all (myself included) immediately fell in love with a dip she’d cribbed from the paper over Christmas.

If I’m not mistaken, the original recipe was also a Waverman, but I can’t confirm because I’ve been unable to find it online.  The recipe in question was for a rather festive roasted red pepper and artichoke tapenade, made unique by the fact that it didn’t actually contain any olives.  I know, it’s technically not a tapenade without them, but I kind of think of it along the same lines as the universe basterdizing hummus.  At any rate, this tapenade was SO good that all of us spending Christmas at the cottage were hooked and slurping it up like crack.  Since then, I’ve regularly made it twice a month in 3 cup batches and find it as a welcome addition to a lunch basket.

However, while recently peeling and turning a 5 pound bag of carrots into sticks, I started to wonder what would happen if I started messing around with the proportions of veg in the recipe.  Before I knew it, I was steaming a handful of carrot sticks and collecting the rest of the ingredients I wanted to play with on the counter.  By the time I was done, the recipe bore little resemblance to the original, but still had the same raw, sweetly pungent bite that the roasted pepper variety had.  The lovely thing about the dip is that it gets better and better the longer it sits, as the flavours have time to meld.

Foodie’s Roasted Carrot Dip


Unintentional Blasphemy

Wee Loaves

A little over a week ago, Larbo over at This Little Piggy posted about his discovery of Fergus Henderson’s trotter gear (a gelatinous porky broth made with (what else?) braised trotters.

Until I read Larbo’s post, I’d never heard of this magical liquid before, but had often contemplated the versatility of a pork-based stock.

There are plenty of recipes out there for beef, chicken, veal and vegetable variations, so why not a similar frenzy for pork, I wondered.

After ruminating on Larbo’s post for a little bit, I started to consider the possible uses for trotter gear.


Comfort Food Times Two

Soup And A Bun

As I mentioned to DMSinTexas the other day, I spent the better part of an afternoon this weekend flipping through How To Cook Everything Vegetarian in an effort to get inspired.

After a bit of random perusal I gravitated towards the soup chapter, which coincidentally is one of my most favourite kinds of vegetarian meals. As much as I generally love poring over a good cookbook and becoming immersed in it, I’ve come to realize that the only time I cook from a recipe is when baking is involved, and even then I’ve taken to winging it more often than not. Of course, since I have such difficulty following a recipe, I didn’t make anything from the book that day, but it did set a few ideas whirring around my brain.

So, it should come as no surprise to my readers that the first recipe I did make was not technically a vegetarian recipe at all (if only because it contained no vegetables) but rather a bread recipe.  With the aid of a little advanced planning, I managed to turn out a fairly decent version of Bittman’s overnight French baguettes.

But, before any of you start getting indignant and accusing me of copping out and picking something that is only inherently vegetarian, allow me to explain;

I picked the baguettes because a) they’re a pretty decent litmus test for the general usability of a cookbook’s recipes and b) I needed something to mop up the vegetarian soup I decided to invent.


Making A Case For Vegetables

How To Cook Everything Vegetarian

I’ve long been a fan of Mark Bittman’s gregariously engaging style and presentation.

Anyone who has watched more than a few minutes of his vast library of podcasts knows that the man is a serious ham (oh the irony!).

At times I’ve found myself transfixed, watching entire episodes on preparations of foods that I don’t even like, just because he’s so darned entertaining and fun.

I’ve owned How To Cook Everything for years, and though I don’t often cook whole recipes from it (in general because I don’t like the limitations that a recipe puts on my creative intentions) it sits right there on the easy-to-reach shelf alongside The Joy (Of Cooking) and various other handy encyclopedic references, like my 27 volume Time Life Cooking set from the 70′s.  I own a few other Bittman tomes too, like Food Matters, Quick And Easy Recipes From The NY Times, and I’m sure there’s another one or two in there somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I could tell you which ones, which I suppose points out how often I use them.

And after what seemed like a ridiculously long time, I finally managed to get a copy of How To Cook Everything Vegetarian recently.  Ever since I read Food Matters, I’ve been meaning to pick up a copy, but every time I went to one of my local book shops, it’s always the one book in his massive repertoire that’s consistently absent.  For a bit I began to wonder whether that was because it was so incredibly popular that nobody could keep it in stock, or because it was so unpopular nobody wanted it.


Meatycake, Meatycake, Butcher Man


Day by day, it’s getting colder and colder, and becoming more and more apparent that summer is long gone.  With that shift in seasons, we spend a little less time cooking outside on the grill, and a little more time indoors baking, braising and stewing, etc.

One of the indicators that typically signals the arrival of fall for me is my willingness to spend time making homemade stock.  Such a steamy, sweaty endeavour would be out of the question during the dog days of summer, but in the fall when days are brisker and nights hold a chill, warming the air with rich, meaty scents sounds like a wonderful, reflective idea.  It also happens to appeal to my waste-not-want-not mentality.  Each time I make stock, I continually marvel at the amount of flavour you can extract from little more than kitchen scraps.  And with such a small amount of effort, you can improve just about every dish you add it to.  Bored of rice?  Simmer it in stock.  Making mashed potatoes?  Boil those in stock first, too.  Deglazing pan juices?  Stock can do that.  In just about any cooking application where you would use water or wine, stock makes a flavourful stand-in.

But, before we get to the meat of the matter, a few “suggestions” about making stock that will make life a little easier.

1) Be organic – I try to buy as much organic food as possible, mostly because I think it tastes better, but also because it’s better for me and the environment.  I usually try not to preach to others about why they should too, because I understand that some things about food are very personal matters.  In this case I’m breaking my rule, though.  If at all possible, try to use organic food to make your stock.  With something as simple and elemental as boiled bones and veg, imperfections easily come through, so starting with the best product possible will automatically put you ahead.

2) Save, save, save – If you roasted a chicken, save that cleaned carcass in a ziploc bag in the freezer.  Once you’ve amassed a few, you’ll be well on your way to a flavourful stock.  And don’t hesitate to add vegetable trimmings to the bag either, as long as they’re cleaned first.  Carrot peels, onion skins and celery leaves all make great additions to a stock base.


You Don’t Win Friends With Salad

Peppers And Salad And Bread, Oh My!

We’ve recently entered my favourite segment of summer; abundance.

You can’t swing a cat at the farmer’s markets around town without hitting a veritable cornucopia of jewel-toned fruits and veggies just ripe for the eating.  The dazzling arrays of produce are mildly hypnotic, and I often end up purchasing more than I would normally eat just because it looks so yummy.  Of course, there’s really no downside to increasing your fruit and veggie ingestion, just let your senses guide you toward the items you find pleasing to the palate.

To that end, I’ve been running a bit of an experiment in our household this week, using the Everyman and I as guinea pigs.  Not only has our f&v consumption increased due to seasonal factors and availability, but I’ve also been decreasing our meat intake and replacing it with vegetarian protein sources for lunch, therefore only consuming modest amounts of meat for dinner.  In a roundabout way it’s sort of an offshoot of Mark Bittman’s VB6 (vegan before 6) concept, except that I am not ruling out the occasional bit of milk, cream or cheese.  Otherwise it’s somewhat more challenging to provide ample protein to the Everyman who is allergic to nuts, averse to eggs and until recently, detested tofu.

As I mentioned earlier this week I finally mastered a decent tofu dish, and our lunch Tuesday was broiled tempeh in a cherry jalapeno barbecue sauce.  Yesterday’s midday meal was a textured vegetable protein (soy flake), bulgur and ricotta stuffed pepper, and of the three, only one was a dud (the tempeh).  I’ve been supplementing these meatless meals with all of the bounty my local markets have to offer, including gorgeous yellow watermelon wedges, handfuls of plump multicoloured heirloom cherry tomatoes, the second coming of strawberries, wild blueberries, grilled corn, beets, nutty sunflower sprouts and freshly shelled peas.  We certainly haven’t been starved for options in the Foodie and the Everyman kitchen this week.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I could give up meat forever (far from it), but the exercise has allowed me to get more comfortable with omnivorousness and the flexitarian mentality.  I can cook well, but there is a marked difference between making a veggie side dish tasty and making a vegetarian meal satisfying enough that you don’t miss the meat.  Except for the tempeh fiasco, the Everyman’s not complaining either, so I must be doing something right.  The main upside for me is that this more plant-centric diet has left me feeling lighter, less sluggish and bloated during the blistering heat and humidity wave we’ve been enduring.


Salad Days

When I was younger, I was what you might call a hardcore carnivore.  But, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized the importance of living a more flexitarian lifestyle, not only for my health, but also for my wellbeing.  For the most part, the Everyman begrudges me on this.  Since I do all of the cooking, he really has no choice anyway…

That desire became part and parcel of my decision to grow much of our food on the roof.  Having a constant supply of freshly grown produce just outside the back door tends to make it that much easier to eat all those servings of fruit and veg, don’t you think?  Plus, I can feel comfortable knowing that the only things that assisted my plants’ growth were sun, rain and the occasional sprinkling of composted cow poop, rather than scary industrialized fertilizers that could grow me a third arm.  Although, I could use a third arm.  It would make it so much easier to smack the stupid people… hmm…

In warmer years, my various salad leaves would have long gone to bolt by now.  If you’re not familiar with that term, bolting is when the lettuce plants shoot up their flowers and start going to seed.  It typically happens when the weather gets too warm (high 20′s to 30′s), and for some reason causes the greens to get bitter and inedible (unless you like that sort of thing).

However, the cool and rainy summer we’ve been experiencing in Ontario has allowed the majority of the greens to remain lush and verdant well past their expected harvest date.

This unexpected overage of leafy veg has meant that we’ve had to get creative with our usages.  The greens are so (surprisingly) flavourful on their own that I usually do little more than salt, pepper, oil and balsamic them before eating.  But, sometimes the body craves a little variety.  And just in time for that, Mark Bittman has put out a list of 101 ways to prepare the humble salad.

I haven’t managed to read through the entire list yet (that’s a lot of salad, after all) but I’m sure there must be at least a dozen or two possibilities included that will work perfectly for dispatching the rest of our lettuce.  I wonder if he has any suggestions for all of those beet greens that are overtaking my garden…


Thank You, Porkosity

ChowtimeBeing that we now have half a hog monopolizing space in the freezer, I’ve been tiptoeing around “the other, other white meat” territory for the last week and a bit, searching for potential new ways to prepare the various cuts of our porcine friend.

A post over at Porkosity (The Star’s food critic Corey Mintz’ personal blog) reminded me of a Minimalist podcast I’d downloaded last year for pork shoulder (that I mistakenly remembered as being cochinita pibil, but upon researching found to be pernil).  Between what I recalled of the Minimalist recipe, and Corey’s version below (which has strangely disappeared from his website), I decided to mimic the flavours as a marinade for more chops, throwing in a little tomfoolery along the way.


I don’t like orange juice, which features prominently in both versions (truthfully, I despise it), so I decided that switching it out for lime juice sounded like a fair compromise.  I also zested my lime for some extra pungency, traded in the white vinegar for cider vinegar, and ground up the annatto seeds (which make up achiote) by hand.  The garlic and salt added, I tasted a fingerful and decided I wanted something more.  Into the bowl went a handful of epazote, (which has such a pleasant ring next to achiote) and a sprinkling of ancho powder.  After it was all done, I slathered it on the chops, then left them to marinate for an hour.


The Foodie 13 – Recommended SOLE Media

I’ve been quietly ruminating over my impressions of Food Inc. for a little while now.

The more I try to collect my thoughts, the angrier I find myself getting.  Actually, perhaps that’s not quite the right word.  Indignant is probably closer to the mark.

The movie itself is brilliantly made, and walks the fine line between eye-opening/educational and graphic/sensationalism rather successfully.  It’s an important movie, and one that I hope will get a more widespread release, because I think it’s something that people need to see.  Here in Canada, (according to it is only being screened at 2 theatres; one in Toronto and one in Montreal.  I’m somewhat surprised that nobody bothered to get it into a major urban market like Vancouver, but maybe the powers that be think (like I sometimes do) that they’re a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to getting back to “real” food, anyway.

In light of that, I thought this would be the perfect platform to discuss what I consider to be essential reading/viewing material for those interested in the  SOLE food movement.  Some of these may not exclusively focus on SOLE, but in the instances where the overall message meshes nicely with those ideals, I have chosen to include them on the list, anyway.

So without further adieu…

1 – The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan - When I first picked up a copy of Michael Pollan’s seminal work, I thought it was quite a novel idea.  The thought of tracing one’s food back to it’s source was entertaining, in a wouldn’t that be nice to know kind of way.  I was never a big fast food/junk food supporter in the first place, but after reading this book, I found my opinions changed in ways I hadn’t expected, specifically pertaining to organics and the skewed view we all have of them.  I’ve yet to meet a person who’s read the book and not had their food philosophy altered.  If you’re interested in re-evaluating your relationship with food, this book is a great place to start.


Vegan Before 6 – Thoughts?

If you happen to follow Mark Bittman’s Bitten blog, then you’ve probably heard about his quasi-saladhead concept VB6 by now.

It’s an interesting theory (to say the least), though one I’m not convinced I could ever adhere to.  To clarify, it’s not a diet plan so much as an overall lifestyle adjustment meant to make you healthier and reduce the impact of our food supply on the environment and our waistlines.

The basic premise is to eat a vegan diet during the day, and only indulge your carnivorous tendencies during the evening meal.  So, while its very model encourages moderation, variety and simplicity, I know myself well enough to deduce that my dinner hour would just devolve into grossly bacchanalian gorging instead.  I often beseech the Everyman not to “ limit me” and if I had a credo, that would probably be it, so this lifestyle and I seem at odds from the start.

There’s no arguing that we could all do with a little less animal flesh; truthfully, before I started living with the Everyman I only ate meat 2 or 3 times a week (even though I LOVE it) and I hardly ever touched delivery, take-out or fast food.  In lieu of the Everyman attempting to cook, we usually end up consuming food from one of those options close to once a week.  And while I think I could progress to a reduced meat diet easily, it’s the full on vegan-during-the-day that I don’t think I could stomach.  I enjoy some form of dairy at almost every meal, so giving that up would be daunting.  Also, in order to make things quicker and easier on myself in the morning, I typically prepare extra portions at dinner and use them for leftover lunches.  If I only ate meat at dinner, I’d either be wasting food (what to do with those leftovers?) or creating more work for myself by having to prepare 2 vegan-based meals before I left for work each day.

So, I’ll admit my resistance basically boils down to my own sheer laziness.  I love vegetables, but I’ll be the first to say that making tasty, composed dishes out of them is creatively taxing for me.  I’m no Alice Waters, after all.  Sure, I can’t get enough of the warm asparagus, fiddlehead and ramp salad I’m so fond of making, but it’s sauteed in a little butter (which would likely be strictly verboten), and I only eat it once or twice a week.  If I had to come up with something delicious and vegan every single day, I think I’d go out of my mind.  I also find that without a decent protein accompaniment to my meal, I just end up starving again an hour later.  I don’t eat tofu and I’m hesitant to eat large quanities of nuts and seeds, so that would pretty much leave me with beans.  And during the summer it’s notably easier to be a vegan, but what do you do once the snow rolls around?  There’s only so many root vegetables a girl can stomach before she becomes irritable, gassy and hungry for blood.

I applaud Mark Bittman for taking the plunge and trying to better himself and the planet.  I’m just not ready to get on board just yet.  Maybe after some baby steps of incorporating a few more vegetarian meals a week I’ll one day be able to get there.  But right now, I enjoy the bloodlust too much.


Market Meals June

New This Week

I’m a fairly industrious person by nature.

Yesterday morning for instance, I baked a loaf of banana bread and prepped a batch of pizza dough before I’d even left for work at 7:30.  That was in addition to the usual girliness of getting ready, packing lunch and tending to the animals (plus rousing the Everyman) that I normally do every day.

Since it was Tuesday I knew there’d be a farmer’s market opportunity when I got home, and for whatever reason I had grilled pizza on my mind.  This article from last week probably has something to do with it, plus the days are (slowly) getting warmer and that always makes me want to crack open the open air grill.  So, I whipped up a batch of dough before departing, figuring I’d work out the fine details whilst at the market and be ready to go once I returned.

When I got to the market (which now comes equipped with it’s own website) it turned out the universe had slightly different plans.  No doubt I’m usually one of the last people there since I’m coming from Mississauga during rush hour, but there was still half an hour until the market was supposed to close, but no veggies were in sight.  In fact, a few of the vendors were already gone, and others were in the process of packing up to go.  Just like that, visions of grilled asparagus pizza that had danced through my head went foop!  I wandered around the remaining stalls somewhat dejectedly, now unsure of what to make for dinner.  Then I came across the Millbank Creamery stand with it’s stacks of cheese and local Amish butter.  I grabbed a pound of butter and a chunk of mozzarella cheese and decided not to abandon the pizza plan just yet.  I stopped to see friendly Seth at Forbes to see if I could rustle up anything pizza-worthy, but all that was left were jars of preserves and dried nuts, seeds and berries, so I picked up a bottle of Labrador tea vinegar and carried on.  Seth says Labrador tea is beguilingly spicy, so I figure this vinegar might be the salad sprinkle of choice come summer.  As I headed down the path to leave, I passed The Local Cafe stand that foils me every time (since the market opened I’ve been trying to scrounge a yummy quick bread that the Everyman loves, but by the time I get there they’re always long gone).  Today was no different so I kept moving, but out of the corner of my eye I spied something on the Evelyn’s Crackers table; a lone bag of red fife wheat.  Eyes darting quickly around to ensure no one else had noticed it, I hied my way to the table and handed over the dough.  What a wonderful and unexpected prize.  I was almost upset that I’d already made pizza dough because I love red fife (really all hard flours; our standard is a hard unbleached wheat that comes flecked with it’s bran by the giant sack from Bob).  With that I began the short jaunt to home and started pondering what would make a good pizza.